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How to Navigate the Thorny Issue of Data Privacy With Background Checks

Your company’s right to know vs a candidate’s right to privacy…where’s the balance?

Finding the right people can be difficult, and hiring the wrong person can be time-consuming and expensive. That’s why background checks have become one of the most important tools companies use to narrow down their searches. With a background check, your company can get information on an individual’s past with the goal of making sure they are indeed the person for your team. However, there are privacy issues with background checks. In order to avoid accusations and law suits related to privacy, there are certain things you need to know.

Get written permission to conduct the background check

Having clear consent to conduct a background check on an individual is the single most important step you must take to protect yourself against claims of privacy violations. Make sure you explain to a job candidate why you are conducting the search and what information you will be looking for.

As they say in the legal world: if it is not in writing, it never happened. Always get written permission to perform the background check. This document helps protect you on two distinct levels. First, when properly worded, the document will prevent that potential hire from claiming a search was made without their knowledge. Second, if the candidate refuses to consent to the background check, you are within the law to not hire the person based solely on their refusal.

What you CAN research

There is a wide range of background information that is perfectly legal for businesses and investigation services to research. You can look into a person’s history related to work, education, criminal records, credit and even their use of social media. It may surprise some people, but companies can look into an individual’s medical history, but only to see if there are any health or physical issues that would keep an applicant from doing their job.

What you CANNOT research

As an employer, there is a sea of information that you can legally investigate, but you should be aware that there are certain limitations. Specific background check regulations will vary by state, but there is usually a seven to ten year time period that negates some information. For example, you cannot look into bankruptcies that are older than ten years. Tax lien and collection information usually expires after seven.

While you can verify whether or not a person graduated from a specific institution, certain educational-related documents are confidential. These include transcripts, recommendations and financial information. If fact, most schools will never release this information to anyone except the former student.

Stick to reasonable, useful information

A large part of protecting yourself against privacy-violation claims is simply sticking to information related to the position. If you are hiring someone to drive a delivery van, then it is reasonable to investigate their driving records. If you are hiring a loan officer, then a credit report would seem perfectly acceptable.

But if you are hiring a retail associate, do you need the person’s credit report or driving record? Probably not. Use common sense and don’t go overkill with your background check and you will be in a great position to make the right hire for your team.

Work with an experienced background check team

Contact Sentinel Background Checks today to learn more about our thorough, attentive, and accurate background check process. We can help you get the information you need for all of your hiring needs.